Sunday Summary 2.19.17Can a name be vapid?

The topic came up on the Appellation Mountain Facebook page. I understand what the poster was trying to say, but I’m not wild about the word.

Maybe it’s because it’s harsh.

But mostly? I think it’s limiting.

To review the textbook definition of vapid:


I do think the most successful names have substance.

That doesn’t mean you’re limited to Elizabeth or William – far from it! It means there’s a story behind how your family came to choose the name, no matter what name they picked. Maybe the story feels a little silly. Or maybe it’s not the kind of thing you share beyond your nearest and dearest. But it has significance to you, and that lends the name choice some power. When you do re-tell the tale, it shapes the name, making it more and more yours, and that story helps your child form her identity, too.

But that’s my bias.

Often I find a name that seems perfect – it has significance to the family and it very much fits their style. The parents, on the other hand, reply with a meh. It might check all the boxes, but it doesn’t feel like their child’s name.

Or maybe the entire idea of finding a great story seems weird to them. One twin mom I worked with loved the idea of her children’s names having coordinated meanings. Think Asher and Felix, two names that both mean happy. But her husband? Let’s just say he wasn’t on board.

So many parents choose names that appeal to them. They like the sound, or the general style. They fall in love with the overall rhythm of a name. Sometimes those names are traditional and stylish by 2017 standards. Think Alice Eleanor and Henry Everett.

At other times, those names are trendy: Jayden Carter and Brooklyn Avery. But it doesn’t mean there’s not every bit as much thought behind those names.

There is a correlation between education and baby names. Other factors matter, too – younger parents name differently than older parents, and race plays a role. At the extremes, I can make some pretty accurate guesses about the socio-economic backgrounds of Addisynne’s parents versus Harriet’s parents. But the vast majority of names, the fat middle of Ruby, Vivian, and Paige; Margaret, Summer, and Teagan, reveal little.

At least until the parents start talking. Because that’s when the story comes out.

And the story? Sometimes parents aren’t good at telling it. They’ll say they chose “cute” names or “strong” names. Which might sound superficial, short-sighted. Even, yes, vapid.

But I suspect that there’s always a story.

And that’s what fascinates me. When you meet someone who loves names that you probably would never – in a million trillion years – put on your personal shortlist, you’ve met somebody who is almost certainly very different from you. And if they’re willing to share the names they love and why they chose them?

That’s a gift. It’s stimulating and challenging; the very opposite of vapid. It’s downright exciting.

Now, on to the name news:

  • Since I’ve already touched on class and baby names … this list from an Irish site lists 11 baby names that “scream class and expensive taste.” Just for fun, of course, but the thing that stands out to me? Nobody names their kiddo Lexus because it’s classy. Meow. Though I’ll admit I love Cartier. Totally guilty pleasure.
  • Love seeing multiples of Freddie and Ottilie in the British Baby Names birth announcements.
  • My husband and I briefly considered creating a new last name, but I just plain liked his. And we agreed we all wanted to have the same last name. I’m always interested to hear others talk about the question.
  • Have you ever researched your family tree? This writer found some amazing names waiting: Louella, Dovey, Asa, Prentice, Fountain. Fountain!
  • Some good thoughts from Kate at Sancta Nomina about how to deal with uncommon names becoming more popular.
  • And some additional thoughts from Duana on how to find a name that isn’t the next big thing.
  • An interesting note: Madonna recently adopted twin girls from Malawi. Their names are Stella and Esther, but the singer referred to them as Stelle and Estere in a post. I know families who adopt infants typically change their birth names, though often try to incorporate some part of their birth name, too. I’m also familiar with families who have adopted older children, and the child wants to change his first name. With foreign adoptions, a name change sometimes feels inevitable – though since English is the dominant language in Malawi, that’s less likely to be the case. I’ll be curious to hear if Madonna directly addresses the question.
  • French pregnancy site neufmois is new to me – thanks, Clare from Name News! I’m not sure I’m reading this right, though – is it true that second and third middle names are traditional in France?
  • While we’re visiting Europe, how ’bout these names from an all-but-lost romance language? Looking at names like Méraïyeu for Mary and Jimce for James serves as a good reminder of how dramatically names change as they travel across languages.
  • Also from the marvelous Clare, this Bolivian couple named their baby Iron. Iron Maiden.
  • Some lovely, romantic, and yes, pretty, name choices. Because why go with Isabella when there’s Fiametta to consider?
  • I so agree with Namenculture on this list: Why Celebrity Baby Names Aren’t Actually All That Crazy.

That’s all for this week! As always, thank you for reading – and have a great week!

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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1 Comment

  1. I confess, certain names strike me as uninspired choices but that doesn’t mean I expect the child to be. I hesitate to use the word vapid because some of my least favorite names certainly provide a spelling challenge! Does that rule a name out? 😉
    When someone picks something insubstantial to my ear, I’m more inclined to mourn the missed opportunity (which I’ll admit is none of my business, but my bias is to favor Magdalena over Mackalynn).